Quantcast

The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

The Reading Crisis

n + 1 has an article up about "The Reading Crisis." (Link goes to the n + 1 main page since they don’t seem to have a permalink to the article.) I like n + 1, but I think I need a little more from them than this. Basically, the article (I guess it’s written by "The Editors") is bemoaning the fact that our so-called reading crisis now makes it excusable for authors to hawk their books in all manner of creative (sometimes demeaning) ways.

A real debate could be had about all these things. Instead we get the “reading crisis.” Under conditions of the reading crisis, everything a writer does, no matter how self-serving and reprehensible, becomes a blow in the service of literature. An arbiter of a “revolution” in reading features games, accordionists, and contests at his public events. A best-selling author sends out emails asking acquaintances to buy his new book before it slips off the Times top-seller list—because without these sales-markers, classic works can disappear. A blogger-author roams bookstores putting advertisements in books reminiscent of her own: “If you liked this, you’ll love The Tattle-Tale.” And these figures are held up as models of the hopeful signs for a renaissance in reading.

Well, okay, I guess it’s fair to complain about this, but I don’t see The Editors offering any solutions. What should authors do? Just manfully abide like good stoics and hope their books sell?

And also, author self-whoring isn’t exactly new. I don’t think you can ascribe it tall o a changed climate brought on by a decline in general reading. No, no, the industry has been moving toward this for some time now.

Blame the industry, the authors, or just plain old crass commercialism, but sales-generating acrobatics on the part of authors are now expected by publishers. Not to mention that many authors, after they discover that their publishers will give their book virtually no attention, instead lavishing hundreds of thousands on a few lead titles, practically beg for the chance to whore themselves out.

I guess my point is you can blame authors for doing this if you what, but what the hell else are they supposed to do? And do we really need a whole editorial lambasting authors for bowing to market forces? Not to mention, didn’t Benjamin Kunkel just do a huge PR blitz for his book? Oh, but articles in the Times and The New Yorker are part of the dignified approach to bookselling. The good old genteel tradition of back slapping and goodoldboy networks.

I’ve got nothing again people who want to critize the sorts of things authors are forced to do to sell their books. I agree, it’s screwed up. But let’s try to realize that it’s not completely the author’s fault. And if you think this is a bad state of affairs, then how about telling us what should be done about it?

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Long Tails Dan Green points to an article that tells us: "The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales...
  2. Decline of reading in America Someone go call Kevin Smokler and ask him what he makes of this. Faced with declining sales, two of the biggest publishers of mass-market titles,...
  3. People Don't Read Borges? Jorge Luis Borges went from being an unknown middle-aged librarian to one of the 20th century’s most influential writers. So why do so few people...
  4. Listening ≠ Reading This is discouraging: Jim Harris, a lifelong bookworm, cracked the covers of only four books last year. But he listened to 54, all unabridged. ....
  5. A Sad Story of a First-Time Author This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review’s first annual books issue, is making the roundsof the lit blogs. It’s a pretty interesting read about how...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

14 comments to The Reading Crisis

  • ed

    Looks like we’re smoking the same ganja. :)

  • I’d have more respect for Kunkel without all the doe-eyed come-do-me publicity photos that seem to accompany media pieces on/by him.

  • Dickens and Twain did whatever they could do to publicize their works why should today’s authors be castigated for doing the same thing.

  • I’m not sure how a reading crisis and writers marketing themselves are related. How else do we get hear about new books? New writers? Writers have to compete in a marketplace where everything else is vying for attention. And it certainly seems better than having a patron who might dictate what you can or cannot publish.

  • And honestly, doesn’t the pull-out-all-stops marketing methods apply to everything sold these days? As long as I’m not getting spammed by authors (I am by bankers, mortgage companies, petroleum and drug companies)which these days is about the lowest you can go, I say more power to ‘em.

  • WHY WE LOVE TLS (UPDATED)

    We’re still technically on vacation so, really, nothing to see here. But this caught our eye and was too entertaining not to share. Since it isn’t available online, we painstakingly retype TLS’ marvelous NB column from the most recent issue:Norman

  • WHY WE LOVE TLS (UPDATED)

    We’re still technically on vacation so, really, nothing to see here. But this caught our eye and was too entertaining not to share. Since it isn’t available online, we painstakingly retype TLS’ marvelous NB column from the most recent issue:Norman

  • WHY WE LOVE TLS (UPDATED)

    We’re still technically on vacation so, really, nothing to see here. But this caught our eye and was too entertaining not to share. Since it isn’t available online, we painstakingly retype TLS’ marvelous NB column from the most recent issue:Norman

  • And if you think this is a bad state of affairs, then how about telling us what should be done about it?
    Once again, one can only refer the author of these remarks to the journal itself, specifically issue #2. There seems this odd sort of delay at work, wherein the blogly critics of this magazine’s third issue have suddenly decided to raise questions already dealt with in the second. Not that there isn’t more than ample substance in #3 of course…
    In the meantime, why stand in the way of a good thing? (Less importantly, why lend credence to impressivly deranged, bizarre chip-on-the-shoulder readings elsewhere?)
    Really, why? Is it jealousy? Must the Blogs be continuously fed and appeased? Speaking more abstractly, of course.
    Though, to be unecessarily blunt, perhaps you could stand to think a bit more critically here, about the place you may occupy–about the ways you (or rather litblogs in general) cannot fail to be implicated in the context of their actual critiques.
    And by “critiques” I mean the ones in the actual magazine, and in print. In issue #2, in this case.

  • Matt,
    Stop yourself. You’re really not doing yourself any good with these remarks.
    I’m all for intelligent comments, but this isn’t it. So you’re saying that I can’t criticize a poorly argued editorial because there was a previous article in a prior issue of n + 1 that dealt with the same topic? Matt . . . try making some fucking sense.
    Obviously you’re a real big fan of n + 1. Good for you. Why don’t you take the time you’re wasting here and put it into a nice big fan letter. Maybe if you’re really good about it Kunkel himself will come over and let you . . .

  • Very classy Scott…
    The advice on “what is good for me” is certainly appreciated, but there’s something I forgot to say:
    It occurs to me that if by some chance you actually do read the magazine (you now say you’ve read from it–that wouldn’t be just the online material by any chance now would it?)…and assuming you aren’t just trying to suck up to some other litblogger or other…then, sadly enough, these two posts are just plain philistine.
    How? Well if I must begin to spell it out:
    By failing to recognize how this article, in its serious tone, is entirely of a piece with that ongoing critique of ‘Eggers’ you now say you’ve read. Indeed, by failing to recognize how you yourself repeat the ‘Eggers’ mentality by so latching onto Kunkel as a stand-in for n+1 in general, as a cheap hook by which to attack something truly excellent and fragile.
    I didn’t want to think that was the case, but now it seems entirely more likely.
    Oh, and I should try making some fucking sense? Should I try finding a cheap angle to get my Eggers-like gossipy bit of facile take-down litblog fame?
    Look, this is a fantastic, highly original, highly intelligent magazine. Don’t take my word for it; subscribe. (They could abandon some of the more cutesy online stuff, sure.) There are good and complex claims worth criticizing and engaging with in that article; I don’t see it here.
    Not that it’s germane in the slightest to even mention, but I’m no huge fan of Kunkel. His writing by itself is by no means representative of n+1, in any case. I’ll simply repeat the question: why use philistine attacks on him as grounds to take gratuitous swipes at a fragile thing? (And why lend credence to others less careful and even more philistine?)
    If, on the other hand, you are sincere in your questions about the article, then you should be delighted to hear that they have already been substantially addressed in previous issues, am I wrong?
    The offer to share my copy still stands.

  • To be fair, that bit you cite from the article is also a bit of a cheap shot at blogger-authors.
    These divisions needn’t prove decisive, however. The fact that some bloggers seem inclined to up the ante of snark rather than self-critically reflect doesn’t exactly help, of course.
    Do you disagree that most blog-books are over-hyped crap, Scott? The article isn’t ruling out the possibility of something good; merely describing the climate we are in. The work of description is of course hardly important; on the contrary.

  • All right. Now you are making some sense. Thank you.
    “Read from the magazine” = I buy them and hold them in my pretty little hands, but I don’t read them cover to cover.
    I didn’t take the “Reading Crisis” article as part of their ongoing takedown of Eggers. Really, I thought that was satisfactorily accomplished in Issue 1.
    I likened Kunkel to Eggers because they are both the most highly publicized members of their respective journals/cliques. I imagine that n + 1′s ongoing takedown of Eggers has more than a little to do with Kunkel’s interest in being the new Eggers. As such, it think it’s fair to use Kunkel to stand in for n + 1 just as most of us use Eggers to stand in for McSweeney’s.
    Bottom line: Like anything else on this blog, n + 1 is not sacred. I’ve praised n + 1 and I’ve criticized it. I’m not trying to take it down any more than you are. I couldn’t. I thought it was a poor editorial, so I said so. I don’t really think, at this point, we need anyone to point out that authors are going to extreme efforts to get their readers. Beyond that, we disagree over whether it’s good or bad: I think it’s ok and somewhat forced on the authors, they think otherwise. We’re diagreeing. No one is taking down anyone.

  • As such, it think it’s fair to use Kunkel to stand in for n + 1 just as most of us use Eggers to stand in for McSweeney’s.
    Except of course that n+1 (the magazine, not Kunkel’s book) has four outstanding editors, while McSweeney’s has one shitty one.
    Ok, I’m done fawning now. Glad to hear you aren’t at all interested in facile take-downs. Surely it reflects better on us generally, to actively distance ourselves from those.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>